Southwest Airlines Exploring Airline Partnerships

Southwest Airlines Exploring Airline Partnerships

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Among the major airlines in the United States, Southwest has historically been the airline that most marches to the beat of its own drum. Part of that includes not having any airline partnerships. However, it looks like that could be changing.

Southwest hiring airline partnerships manager

Southwest Airlines has a job posting for the position of Senior Manager Airline Partnerships. Here’s the job summary:

Manage the development, communication, and execution of Southwest’s entry into airline partnerships and develop and maintain relationships with potential partner carriers so that Southwest can successfully launch and build strong partnerships. Collaborate across both Commercial and Operational Divisions to ensure smooth entry and implementation of agreements and working with partner carriers to ensure a smooth journey for all Customers.

Southwest hasn’t otherwise said much publicly about developing airline partnerships, so I’d consider this posting to be pretty significant. Now, a couple of things to note:

  • Since the airline is just hiring a senior manager for this role now, I would expect it to be quite some time before any partnerships launch
  • Just because the airline is exploring the potential of something doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen; after all, an airline with tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue hiring a person to explore the possibility of something isn’t a major expense

What airline partnerships could Southwest launch?

All we can do is speculate as of now, though I sure think I’m not the only one who finds this to be fascinating. Here are my initial thoughts about what partnerships could (and couldn’t) make sense for Southwest:

  • I can’t see Southwest partnering with a major airline in the United States, both for competitive reasons, and because business models aren’t compatible; Southwest has a robust route network, prides itself in two free checked bags, doesn’t do assigned seating, etc.
  • It goes without saying Southwest won’t join one of the “big three” alliances, since American, Delta, and United are founding members of those alliances, and wouldn’t welcome Southwest
  • What I could most see Southwest doing is something along the lines of the Allegiant & Viva Aerobus alliance, allowing Allegiant to grow in Mexico and Viva Aerobus to expand in the United States
  • If Southwest were to grow, it seems that a partnership in Canada or Mexico would make the most sense; I don’t think Southwest would benefit much from long haul partnerships, between the airline largely having hubs that aren’t international gateways (Hobby, Midway, etc.), and the revenue potential there being limited
  • The major challenge is that I’m not sure how many airlines are realistically available for a partnership like this, especially since Southwest isn’t particularly compatible with an ultra low cost carrier business model

So I remain skeptical. Then again, if you told me a few years ago that American was going to have a close partnership with JetBlue, I wouldn’t have believed you.

The topic of Southwest airline partnerships is going to be very interesting to watch. Southwest’s business model just doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, and that’s going to make this complicated.

Bottom line

Southwest Airlines is looking to hire a manager to explore airline partnership opportunities. While it’s far from a sure bet that this will come to fruition, the fact that Southwest is even exploring this is a noteworthy development. Usually I feel like I can guess which direction Southwest will go, but I’m stumped with this one.

What kind of airline partnerships do you think would be a good fit for Southwest?

Conversations (50)
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  1. Eric D Guest

    They’re really are no dance partners left for SWA. But then again, they need new revenue streams, & SWA isn’t immune to the craziness of over sales, overbooking & stealing seats.

  2. TomJ Guest

    Big mistake!!! HUGH!! You’ll be opening the door to the craziness other airlines are going through. Over sales, overbooking, steeling of seats by other airlines. Don’t do it, please don’t

  3. Jr Guest

    Lufthansa just started flying Into St Louis June 1 2022. This is a nonstop to Frankfort Germany. Southwest has 100 flights a day out of STL. This would make more sense

  4. Connor Guest

    I wouldn't be surprised if WN is exploring another "Northeast Alliance-type" of relationship, maybe in Florida, Vegas, or in another market WN is strong in. Now that the NEA has been (mostly) proven to be legal, perhaps WN wants to explore something similar themselves. Food for thought.

  5. Dennis Guest

    Allegiant would be a good partner because they operate in a similar manner but don’t typically compete in the same markets.

  6. At go out Guest

    I think they will have a partnership with some of the new LCCs in the US such as Breeze and Avelo. Maybe a Canadian carrier like WestJet or flair.

  7. Don Guest

    A Code Share at Midway with Porter so one can fly on one ticket to Toronto Islands Airport would be a good choice.

  8. Henry Harteveldt Guest

    A year or so ago, around the time Southwest was opening service at O'Hare, a Southwest exec was quoted in a Chicago news article stating the airline was open to forming interline relationships with foreign-flag airlines at gateway airports such as ORD. Presumably, this role will, at least in part, focus on exploring and developing those relationships.

    The responsibilities appear to be fairly substantial for a "Senior Manager" role, which is great for the...

    A year or so ago, around the time Southwest was opening service at O'Hare, a Southwest exec was quoted in a Chicago news article stating the airline was open to forming interline relationships with foreign-flag airlines at gateway airports such as ORD. Presumably, this role will, at least in part, focus on exploring and developing those relationships.

    The responsibilities appear to be fairly substantial for a "Senior Manager" role, which is great for the successful job applicant. I find it interesting that the reporting relationship is not mentioned in the job description, though. The job will report to someone more senior, but to whom? There's a big difference for a Senior Manager to report to a Director and a more senior role, such as a VP.

  9. Dx Guest

    Definitely think if they do any kind of partnership, Southwest's network logically matches with a Mexican LCC, possibly also Porter (Toronto-MDW). Icelandair and Emirates are both somewhat partnered with JetBlue, although that could always change.

  10. David Guest

    Senior manager is a pretty junior role in the world I’m familiar with. A director or senior director role would imply more seriousness about it.

  11. Roy Guest

    Agree with Aeromexico, makes sense to extend their network. Also with the opening of Hawaii route, it makes you think something across the Atlantic is possible so an agreement with Ryanair might be perfect.

    1. Henry Harteveldt Guest

      Highly unlikely WN will partner with Aeromexico. Delta is an investor in Aeromexico. The two have an anti-trust immunized joint venture.

  12. NJP11 New Member

    Everyone is thinking of international and long-haul partners but I think it would be hilarious if this went the other way and turned out to be the beginning of Southwest using buses in lieu of connecting flights like AA has recently announced out of PHL.

    1. Henry Harteveldt Guest

      Agree, don't be distracted by the "Airline Partnerships" title. I'm sure the primary focus will be on partnerships with other carriers, but it wouldn't be a bad idea for WN to explore a partnership with a bus operator such as Landline to extend its reach to communities that may have some demand, but can't support air service, whether that's due to market size, fuel costs, pilot availability, etc.

  13. James Guest

    Will be interesting to see. Southwest's Cargo division is already "partnered" with WestJet (for Canadian operations) and Hawaiian Airlines (for Hawaii). Although this doesn't extend to fares or codeshares I wonder what they're trying to pull off.

  14. Steve Guest

    @Razzak Memon
    SWA is better than AA
    AA is a ULCC compared to SWA

    1. Philip Guest

      AA has the quality of an ULCC. Its prices are everything but ultra- low cost. I still agree that SWA is better than AA tho.

    1. Eric D Guest

      Copa has a code share w UA. SWA wouldn’t want to take on one of the big three legacy carriers. Besides SWA already flies into Mexico & Central America.

    2. Eric D Guest

      Copa has a code share w UA. SWA wouldn’t want to take on one of the big three legacy carriers.

  15. Charles Robertson Guest

    Southwest pilots have a very broad and robust scope clause in their contract. There’s not much to work with there

  16. ChuckMO Guest

    Jetstar Australia via HNL.
    Icelandair via several US cities.
    And the aforementioned Volaris. WN has notoriously weak POS in Mexico (they couldn't make MEX work) so there's that.

  17. KahunnaTravel Guest

    WestJet and WN had some level of code sharing back in 2008 - https://www.southwestairlinesinvestorrelations.com/news-and-events/news-releases/2008/16-12-2008. They may look "north" again - but WN is alot bigger today than in 2008.

  18. Klaus Grimm Guest

    I can see SW partnering with regional semi private carriers like JSX

    1. Raquel Guest

      Why so surprised....years ago SWA had a partnership with Volaris for a few years

  19. Mark Guest

    Could be the other end of the spectrum (pure speculation) - airlines like Silver or Cape Air tapping into small towns . (Sort of like Fedex and the fleet of Caravans which feed their large aircraft)

  20. AlanD Guest

    I would think Porter is an obvious choice given how they just have a limited agreement with B6. I think Bamboo could be an interesting transpacific partner if and when they launch US flights; WN has hubs in most of the main cities with large Vietnamese-American populations.

    Less likely but also possible partners could include Condor to Europe and maybe Emirates.

  21. Etravelstheworld Guest

    This would be controversial and unlikely, but…

    If you are emirates, why wouldn’t you check in with SW who also happens to be independent? Sure there are a ton of small sw airports where emirates can’t fly into but they still fly to LAS, Denver, Phoenix, Orlando, etc.

    Both airlines would gain from each other by partnering in cities where the A380 can fly to. Down the line emirates diversifies away from the...

    This would be controversial and unlikely, but…

    If you are emirates, why wouldn’t you check in with SW who also happens to be independent? Sure there are a ton of small sw airports where emirates can’t fly into but they still fly to LAS, Denver, Phoenix, Orlando, etc.

    Both airlines would gain from each other by partnering in cities where the A380 can fly to. Down the line emirates diversifies away from the A380, it would open more cities.

    Short term Logistics aside, this would be a complimentary partnership with very little overlap. Emirates would get feeder traffic to make their A380 planes full for smaller city pairs. SW would gain an international network.

    No Alliance BS to have to deal with…

    Keep in mind us airlines long accused the ME3 of being subsidized and they accepted federal aid from the US. This may open the door for collaboration as they are all equally corrupt.

    1. Gaurav Community Ambassador

      Can you imagine stepping off a first class Emirates seat and onto a SW flight??

    2. Sam Guest

      EK flys mostly 777's to the US. If you used this plane as an example, all of your airports that need to be "opened up" will already be good to go.

  22. Neh Guest

    Southwest had an agreement with Westjet before the Delta/Westjet agreement but Southwest let that go. Southwest had Viva Aerobus, but they let that go. So, who would actually take Southwest seriously nowadays?

    1. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      And both ATA and Icelandair at BWI, back around the turn of the century.

  23. Eskimo Guest

    Don't get too excited yet, "airline partnership" could just mean "interline agreement" for the near future.
    Job description is so broad it can be a liaison up to running actual alliances.

    1. Hayden Guest

      That still could help get southwest passengers to Europe or places they don’t fly with a interline agreement.

    2. Leigh Gold

      Good point, and agreed.

      However, even if WN is only exploring interline agreements, that would still be a significant change in their business plan, and the backend IT and operational implications would potentially be substantial. That said, WN did update their distribution strategy on May 17, noting they want to increase utilization of the GDS systems, which would ease interline integration.

      Time will tell. For a significant change of their business strategy, wouldn't they...

      Good point, and agreed.

      However, even if WN is only exploring interline agreements, that would still be a significant change in their business plan, and the backend IT and operational implications would potentially be substantial. That said, WN did update their distribution strategy on May 17, noting they want to increase utilization of the GDS systems, which would ease interline integration.

      Time will tell. For a significant change of their business strategy, wouldn't they also have had to say something in their financial or other shareholder statements given that they are a publicly traded company??

    3. Eskimo Guest

      I don't think LUV needs to disclose anything until actually reach some sort of agreement with 3rd party. And likely nothing if it's just interline agreements. I don't think WN would have trouble interline, as they had experiences before with AirTran during the merger.

      And see, now most of the comments are dreaming about codeshares, Europe, Asia, all crazy stuff.
      PSA: If you think you can figure out solutions for Southwest and who they...

      I don't think LUV needs to disclose anything until actually reach some sort of agreement with 3rd party. And likely nothing if it's just interline agreements. I don't think WN would have trouble interline, as they had experiences before with AirTran during the merger.

      And see, now most of the comments are dreaming about codeshares, Europe, Asia, all crazy stuff.
      PSA: If you think you can figure out solutions for Southwest and who they should partner with, I suggest YOU apply to that position. This seems like a blank canvas for WN not bounded by prior objectives (because they have none). Your creativity might lead to a new career.

    4. Leigh Gold

      ...well, I do have management of airline interline partnerships on my resume...but have since moved up the chain...but, hey, who doesn't love strategic challenges/opportunities?

      ...and agree, lots of aspirational (being kind) ideas being posted.

      Take care!

    5. Eskimo Guest

      Interesting, when I said you, I wasn't actually meaning @Leigh but the you's who think it's a good idea for F passengers who just finished shower on A380 right before landing in IAH just to find out your connecting flight is leaving HOU and thinking your WN boarding pass saying C 1 means you're in the first row aisle, a First Class seat.
      Genius!!!!!

      However, @Leigh depending on how far up the chain but how does 'SVP Global Alliance' reporting under COO sound?

    6. Leigh Guest

      Sounds interesting and a conversation that should be offline. Will email Ben to ask him to share my contact details with you.

      I did look at route networks, and specifically primary/secondary hub operations and connectivity such as IAH v HOU, DFW v DAL, regarding WN….etc, etc…

      All the best.

    7. Eskimo Guest

      @Leigh

      I don't work for or represent Southwest. I do encourage smart people who have a passion to disrupt an industry to give aviation industry a shot and apply for this position.

    8. Cathy Guest

      I'd love to see any partnership that connects small airports to SW locations so less driving is needed to get to a SW location.

    9. Dempseyzdad Member

      Have never flown on SWA and never plan to, regardless of who they partner with.

  24. Will Guest

    Icelandic? It would be a way for them to launch European flights - they used to have a partnership with Volaris then expanded into Mexico so this could be their start.

    1. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      They already once tried to partner with Icelandair (and ATA) back in 2001, ex BWI. It fell apart even before the 9/11 market disruption. Not sure how keep FI would be to bother with WN again, especially since they cooperate with Alaska out West and JetBlue in the east.

  25. Robert D Guest

    Didn’t Southwest have a partnership with Volaris at some point? Not sure what happened with that.

  26. Eric Guest

    Porter in Canada would be an interesting partnership. Canada has mostly Canadian point of sale, so southwest doesn't need to fly there. Porter does fly from Toronto City Centre to Chicago Midway, which is a great way to funnel Canadian origin passengers to the south/west - especially to destinations where Porter's Dash-8s don't have the range to serve from Toronto. Adding preclearance in YTZ will make that transfer much easier.

    1. Raylan Guest

      Porter was my first thought as well.

    2. JamesP Guest

      I was actually thinking bigger airlines - Westjet and/or Air Canada. I hve had that dream a while ago that Southwest would take over Westjet and expand into Canada this way. But I think that air Canada is actually very likely to partner with southwest, as they have many non-Star Alliance partners already. Obviously, United wouldn't be happy about it.

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Henry Harteveldt Guest

Agree, don't be distracted by the "Airline Partnerships" title. I'm sure the primary focus will be on partnerships with other carriers, but it wouldn't be a bad idea for WN to explore a partnership with a bus operator such as Landline to extend its reach to communities that may have some demand, but can't support air service, whether that's due to market size, fuel costs, pilot availability, etc.

1
Noel Guest

Copa makes the most sense.

1
Eskimo Guest

Don't get too excited yet, "airline partnership" could just mean "interline agreement" for the near future. Job description is so broad it can be a liaison up to running actual alliances.

1
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